coronavirus around the world

Coronavirus cases, deaths soar in Mexico and across Latin America
Bryan Dyne, WSWS, Jul 14 2020

Mexico has now surpassed Italy in its number of known COVID-19 deaths, which currently stand at just over 35k, making the country’s pandemic outbreak the fourth deadliest in the world after Pindostan, Brazil and the UK. Mexico now also reports just under 300K total coronavirus cases, and its pandemic curve mirrors those across Central and South America, a region which accounts for about a quarter of all cases and deaths internationally. To cope with its surging case rate and death toll, Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum has announced that any household with one confirmed case of the virus will be required to stay home for at least 15 days, with the government providing food and supplies. The city has also been forced to enforce laws limiting the length of time a body can be buried to allow the dead in public cemeteries to be exhumed, making space for those who died from the pandemic. Older bodies are being cremated and replaced with a new one. In contrast to the dire situation across the country, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) claimed Sunday:

The bottom line is that the pandemic is on the downside, that it is losing intensity.

His remarks, which echo the numerous falsehoods uttered by Trump about the pandemic, are an attempt to justify the economic reopening his administration has spearheaded even as the actual case and death numbers have continued to increase. AMLO’s pandemic policies have been criticized by former health boxtops. Salomón Chertorivski, who served as Mexico’s health minister from 2011 to 2012, told the newspaper Reforma:

I am against reopening the economy before cases and deaths are steadily decreasing. There are three fundamental variables: a reduction in the last 14 days in the numbers of contagions, reduction in recent days in the number of deaths, and reduction in the number of hospitalized people. None of those three parameters were achieved.

Worldwide, the number of coronavirus cases reported to public health authorities has doubled in the past six weeks, bringing the total number to 13.2m. One million of these were reported in the past five days alone. During those same five days, another 23k people died from COVID-19, bringing the confirmed death toll above 574k. As has been noted by the WHO, mortality from the infection is relatively stable but threatening to rise. The 7-day moving average of daily world deaths is now just below 5k, higher than records since May 13. At yesterday’s press briefing WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned:

There is a lot to be concerned about.

Dr Tedros was also more blunt than usual in his contrast of the countries which were “alert and aware” of the dangers of the pandemic, those which “are opening up their societies on a data-driven, step-by-step basis, with a comprehensive public health approach” and countries which are “seeing dangerous increases in cases, and hospital wards filling up again” because “proven measures to reduce risk” were “not implemented or followed.” While WHO officials rarely name names, these last comments are clearly aimed at countries including Mexico, Brazil and Pindostan. Dr Tedros noted:

The epicenter of the virus remains in the Americas, where more than 50% of the world’s cases have been recorded.

This could not have been said even two months ago, when Mexico reported only 40k cases, about thirteen percent of its current case count. They are among the “many countries headed in the wrong direction.” Mexico, along with Brazil, Colombia, Argentina and Bolivia, are in what Dr Tedros called the “intense transmission phase of their outbreak.” Brazil has just under 1.9m cases and nearly 73k deaths, values which have doubled over the past month. Colombia is worse off, having doubled its cases and deaths to 318k and 5.4k respectively, in the past two and a half weeks. Bolivia and Argentina have had similarly sharp increases in their outbreaks. These countries also provide insight into the seeming contradiction that, globally, cases are increasing while deaths have remained relatively constant. The pandemic is also spreading rapidly in many Central American and Caribbean countries. Panama, for example, has more cases per capita than Pindostan, at 45,633, along with 909 deaths. The Dominican Republic has recorded more than 45k cases and 903 deaths, doubled from a month ago. Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, targets of Pindo imperialism for decades, have collectively suffered more than 67k cases and 2.2k deaths. Moreover, these are countries with very little testing, meaning that the true extent and toll of the pandemic is likely vastly undercounted. In Guatemala, 46% of tests have come back positive, indicating that the country’s outbreak is spiraling out of control and that spread of the disease is not really known. In Mexico, there are reports of families not getting sick loved ones tested because the procedure has been generally to cremate those who have died from the pandemic, rather than bury them. At yesterday’s WHO press briefing, Dr Michael Ryan gave a sobering assessment of the state of the pandemic, and warned against being over-optimistic about developing a vaccine in lieu of basic public health measures. He said:

I’ve said here before, we need to learn to live with the virus. Expecting we will eradicate this virus in the coming months is unrealistic. Believing that magically we will get a perfect vaccine that everyone will have access to, is also not realistic. The history of vaccines indicates that we can and will develop a vaccine. The question is: how effective will that vaccine be, and more important and more worryingly, who will get that vaccine, and will that distribution be fair and equitable>

Indonesia records over 1k COVID-19 cases every day for three weeks
Owen Howell, WSWS, Jul 14 2020

Indonesia is becoming the new COVID-19 epicentre in East Asia. Over the past three weeks, more than 1k new cases were recorded every day. If the current trend continues, within the next two weeks the country’s official figures will surpass those of China, where the virus first broke out in January. During the same period, the death toll similarly climbed, with between 30 and 90 fatalities confirmed each day. The numbers currently stand at 75,699 infections and 3,606 deaths. Last Thursday, a new record was reached with 2,657 cases in one day. The spike was due to the discovery of a large cluster at a military academy in Bandung, West Java. Army Chief of Staff General Andika Perkasa revealed on Saturday there were 1,280 confirmed cases at the school. Of these, 991 were army cadets, while the rest were staff and their families. The vast majority showed no symptoms. Moreover, the 2,657 cases were discovered from testing only 12,554 people, suggesting an infection rate of over 20%. Indonesia’s testing rate, despite a mild expansion of capacity over the past month, remains among the lowest in the world. Ranked 162nd, according to website Worldometer, it conducts only 3,789 tests per 1m people. In the fourth-most populous country in the world, with over 273m people, this is highly dangerous.

The dramatic rise in figures partly corresponds to increased testing, but the government’s aggressive back-to-work policy has accelerated the spread of the virus across the nation’s 6k inhabited islands. Overcrowded urban centres have become viral hotbeds, since the large-scale reopening of workplaces, restaurants, and public transport began early last month. In response to Thursday’s spike, President Joko Widodo labelled the situation a “red signal” but blamed the spread of the virus on the behaviour of the population. He claimed that transmission would rise if the public did not cooperate with prevention measures. The government is seeking to divert popular attention from its own track record of mixed messages and blatant misinformation about the virus. COVID-19 task-force spokesman Achmad Yurianto said the term “new normal,” widely used by the government to justify the return to work, had created complacency among people.

Since the start of the pandemic, politicians, religious leaders and other authority figures have either trivialised the virus or touted quack cures, undermining efforts by health professionals to provide clear information to the public. This has resulted in confusion and even indifference among masses of workers and peasants. Government ministers have variously advocated bean sprouts and broccoli to avoid contracting the virus. Widodo himself promoted drinking jamu, a traditional herbal drink. Others asserted that the coronavirus cannot survive in tropical climates. Agriculture Minister Syahrul Yasin Limpo was condemned last week by experts for claiming a necklace made from eucalyptus could help prevent transmission. The necklaces have been developed by the government and will be mass-produced in August.

In February, Health Minister Terawan Agus Putranto, a military doctor and radiologist, attributed the country’s lack of COVID-19 cases to religious prayer. After the first confirmed cases in March, however, Widodo admitted that the government was aware of coronavirus infections in Indonesia as early as January, but concealed data to “avoid panic.” National coronavirus watchdog Kawal COVID-19 showed that, as of Thursday, there were at least 7,360 deaths among suspected COVID-19 patients. These deaths were not counted in the official death toll. As many provincial governments do not release such data, the real number is undoubtedly much higher. The severe shortage of polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests has led to the proliferation of rapid antibody tests, which are known to produce false negatives. But even these cheaper testing kits, at a price ceiling of $10.49, set by the Health Ministry, are unaffordable for large sections of workers. Kompas reported last week that private hospitals in Central Java were ignoring regulations and charging up to $US35 per test kit.

While East Java has replaced Jakarta as the country’s epicentre, the capital is witnessing a resurgence after lockdown measures were abandoned. Jakarta Governor Anies Baswedan announced on Sunday that the city had recorded 404 new cases, its highest one-day spike since the outbreak began. He said the city’s positivity rate had doubled overnight to 10.5%, while 66% of new cases detected since June were asymptomatic. This indicates that the spread has gone far beyond the official statistics. Jakarta has officially recorded 658 deaths, but the probable number of deaths reached 2,152 last Monday, according to data from Citing an increase in the city’s burials, Governor Anies told the SMH he believed an extra 3k Jakartans died from the virus in March and April alone, when the official toll was 414.

In addition to the military academy in Bandung, clusters are appearing across West Java province. A factory in Cikarang city’s industrial zone, run by consumer goods giant PT Unilever Indonesia, was forced to close its tea-based beverages plant on Jun 26 after workers confirmed positive. In a workplace of just 265 employees, 21 had contracted the virus. Throughout the reopening, the government taskforce has downplayed the transmission through factories, offices and other workplaces, relying on the state’s chronic lack of testing. In his daily briefings, spox Yurianto has heralded many of the country’s 34 provinces as “green zones,” with no or minimal infection rates. On Jun 29, he said 13 provinces had reported zero case in a single day. These provinces, however, have the lowest testing rates, some as low as 94 tests per 1m people. Professor Pandu Riono, an epidemiologist at the University of Indonesia, urged the government to double or triple the rate of PCR tests and abandon rapid tests altogether. He said that if the required funding is not quickly invested in testing and health-care, the pandemic could soon accelerate to 4k new cases a day.

From the beginning, the Widodo administration’s priority has been to address the pandemic’s economic impact, at the expense of public health. The pro-business interests driving the country’s early reopening are evident in the government’s plans to restart the tourism industry, a huge source of corporate revenue. The Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry will soon publish a handbook to guide the sector on how to do business in the “new normal era.” Investment Minister Luhut Pandjaitan last week promoted the development of “tourism villages” around Lake Toba on Sumatra island, reassuring executives and investors:

The pandemic is not an obstacle for us to go ahead.

Authorities on the resort island of Bali began lifting limits last Thursday, allowing residents and tourists to resume public activities. The island will open to domestic arrivals on Jul 31 and foreign arrivals in September. Dr I Gusti Agung Ngurah Anom, chairman of Indonesia Doctors Association in Bali’s capital Denpasar, expressed concern over the resumption of flights, referring to the island’s rising case numbers and already overwhelmed health-care facilities. Balinese medical staff continue to work flat out, without removing protective clothing during eight-hour shifts. Dr Ngurah said:

We almost don’t have time to drink or to pee! Some wear Pampers!

One Comment

  1. PB
    Posted July 14, 2020 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum….

    Seriously? Mexico too?

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